Sunday

26th Jan 2020

EU keeps North Macedonia and Albania at arm's length

  • North Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev (r) with EU Council president Donald Tusk (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

North Macedonia must wait until October to start EU accession talks despite its historic name deal with Greece, Europe has said.

Albania's prospects look dimmer, while Turkey, another EU aspirant, might face sanctions in an escalating gas dispute with Cyprus.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Albanian prime minister Edi Rama (l) with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

That was the snapshot of EU enlargement policy when European affairs ministers met in Luxembourg on Tuesday (18 June).

EU states took "good note" of European Commission advice to immediately open talks with Skopje, but opted instead to "revert to the issue with a view to reaching a clear and substantive decision as soon as possible and no later than October".

"A minority of member states were not able to support the commission's clear proposal," the EU enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, said.

They snubbed North Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev despite his fight against Macedonian nationalists to change his country's name in line with EU and Greek demands.

"We don't need some new radicalism, nationalism and populism in our country," as a result of EU enlargement fatigue, Zaev told the Financial Times the same day.

"There is a promise from Europe that it is a merit-based system and they must make decisions on the arguments of what we deserve and what we fulfilled. After 15 years, we really deserve this and Europe must deliver," he said.

The delay was "unfortunate" the EU commission's Hahn said, but he added he was "extremely confident we'll get a green light in October".

German leader Angela Merkel has also promised Zaev the Bundestag would agree to do it in autumn.

The Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama, complained along the same lines.

"We don't need new bad things to happen to realise that every setback in this [EU accession] process fuels nationalism, fuels fantasies, fuels harmful dreams," he told the Financial Times.

The EU ministers also said they would "revert" to Albania talks in autumn.

But Rama's bid is in trouble because the Dutch parliament has ordered the Netherlands to veto the move due to Albania's organised crime and corruption.

Rama called the plan to go ahead with North Macedonia but not Albania "the most crazy and short-sighted notion".

But the EU ministers' conclusions pointed to even wider enlargement-scepticism in Europe.

They "stressed" the "importance of ensuring that the EU can maintain and deepen its own development, including its capacity to integrate new members", in a nod to France, which has said the EU needed internal reform before moving ahead.

The only accession talks currently open are with Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, with Bosnia and Kosovo trailing even further behind.

Facts on the ground

But Serbia is de facto locked out of the EU over non-recognition of Kosovo.

Accession talks with Turkey also de facto ended in 2016 after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan imposed authoritarian rule in the wake of a failed coup.

His ongoing jailing of "journalists, academics, members of political parties, including parliamentarians, human rights defenders, [and] social media users" could "not be condoned" despite his help in stopping EU-bound migrants, the ministers said on Tuesday.

And a new dispute on Turkish gas drilling in Cyprus' economic zone could end in EU sanctions on Ankara, they warned.

Plans for two Turkish ships to drill wells were "illegal" and Turkey should "respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus, and refrain from any such actions", the ministers said.

"The EU will closely monitor developments and stands ready to respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus", they added.

They tasked the EU foreign service to "submit options for appropriate measures without delay", after Cyprus threatened to veto the whole enlargement conclusions if Europe did not back it up.

Opinion

EU report recognises Albania's achievements

Albania currently faces a serious crisis, which it would be foolish for all actors in the international community to ignore. Yet we must ask that our partners in Europe read Federica Mogherini's report carefully and recognise accomplishments.

EU delays Macedonia and Albania talks

Accession talks to start in 2019, not this year as hoped, after France, Denmark and Netherlands force delay despite breakthrough on Macedonia name dispute.

France keen to pause EU enlargement

France wants to pause EU enlargement pending major reforms, in what some fear could "destabilise" the Western Balkans.

EU enlargement freeze prompts Serbia rethink

The president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, said the Balkan region needs to take care of itself after the EU blocked enlargement talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan premier refuses to step down, despite ruling
  2. UK set to support new fossil fuel projects in Africa
  3. Leftist MEPs to visit jailed Catalan MEP
  4. Bulgaria may expel Russian diplomats over 'espionage'
  5. EU, China, others agree on WTO body to settle disputes
  6. EU Commission makes move against Poland on judges law
  7. Soros pledges $1bn for liberal universities
  8. Merkel: Germany unprepared for 2015 refugee crisis

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Opinion

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. AI must have human oversight, MEPs recommend
  2. Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal
  3. Why do EU arms end up in Libya despite UN ban?
  4. Brexit deal to be signed, as sides poised for tough talks
  5. Timmermans urges EU governments to tax carbon
  6. Vietnam sent champagne to MEPs ahead of trade vote
  7. China spy suspect had EU permission to work as lobbyist
  8. EU to unveil 5G 'toolbox' to tackle security threats

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us